Jun Akiyama © vs. Suwama (AJPW – 01/02/16)

Jun Akiyama © vs. Suwama for the Triple Crown
All Japan Pro Wrestling
January 2, 2016
Korakuen Hall
** ½

A lot has been written in recent years about matches about matches that purposefully set out to be epic. In a nutshell, the idea is that certain matches try too hard to be epics rather than letting that drama flow naturally or not at all. The end result is a match that is not very good and might have been better off had it not attempted to clear such a high bar.

Not all epic matches are bad, although I have noticed the criticism creeping in that direction. Some matches are deserving of a grandiose structure and some wrestlers are able to execute big time main events in a way that feels natural. I contend that a justifiable and well done epic match is the most enjoyable match. Most wrestlers probably feel that way as well, which is why we constantly see examples of wrestlers trying to force an epic match out of a situation does not exactly warrant one.

In the Jun Akiyama and Suwama Triple Crown title match my favorite moment in the match was Suwama’s transition over to offense at or around the halfway mark.

Up until that point, Akiyama was well ahead in terms of total offense, even if he had not necessarily controlled the entirety of the match. Suwama’s injured neck was tangible evidence of the effectiveness of Akiyama’s attack. Just moments earlier, Akiyama scored the first legitimate near fall of the match off of a choke. Suwama was now fighting for his life, as evidenced by the way he frantically elbowed his way out of an exploder suplex attempt and the desperate strain of his face as he attempted to lift Akiyama for a move of his own.

Suwama eventually managed some separation from his opponent, which he took advantage of with a beautiful high-impact drop kick. Akiyama bumped big for the kick – he might not have had any other choice – and rolled out of the ring. After allowing that to sink in for a couple of seconds (and while Akiyama was selling on the outside), Suwama followed up with a fine tope onto the champion. The segment served as a transition and was a pivotal point in the match. What made it hit home for me was the struggle involved. This was not a lazy transition at all. Suwama struggled to get into a position where he could even potentially execute offense. The offense he eventually landed – the drop kick and tope – were excellent high impact moves that resonated with me, particularly because of the build to them.

In real time, that sequence felt like the match hit – or was at least rapidly approaching – its peak point. Suwama’s comeback was the last piece of the puzzle before the finish in telling a full story. There was the feeling out process at the beginning (which was well done I thought), Akiyama establishing control with his interesting offense, Akiyama working the neck and closing in on a victory, and now Suwama making a comeback to get the match on equal footing. They had me hooked after the well-executed comeback. A compact and high energy finishing sequence where Suwama either finished off the comeback or couldn’t quite get it done would have been an appropriate capper.

Rather than getting to one of those inevitable end points immediately, the match detoured into a lengthy back-and-forth battle. Circling back to the earlier point about matches that are overly ambitious, it was at this point that this match took an unnecessary turn towards trying to produce an epic match in spite of the circumstances.

The wrestlers traded suplexes and strikes for several minutes. Some of the near falls worked relatively well for the live crowd. Some fell flat. None of them resonated with the Korakuen fans (or me) as true false finishes. This portion of the match felt unnecessarily lengthy and tacked on to a degree. As interesting as Akiyama’s offense was through most of the match, it was incredibly one-dimensional during this long back-and-forth ending. Both guys settled into a pattern of suplexes and lariats. The offense became muddled. While Suwama’s string of moves in his comeback stayed with me after the match, the offense in the final portion is all jumbled together in my mind. The ending minutes were filled with a lot of moves, fighting spirit spots and kick outs, none of which meant as much as the far more focused transition that proceeded that section.

I understand that a Triple Crown title defense on a Korakuen Hall show is a relatively important match for All Japan these days. Akiyama and Suwama did not have much of a personal issue however and Akiyama’s reign had barely gotten untracked. It was a match between two wrestlers who have been the champion before in a promotion that is barely alive. It was not a match where a major back-and-forth ending with all the stops being pulled out felt natural or befitting of the circumstances. It also did not help that this portion felt largely robotic. Matches are epic and memorable because of the emotion they create. The ending here felt like two guys going through the mechanics of what they feel an epic ending should be without any of the substance that is needed to make it work.

Based on what Akiyama and Suwama did in the match, I felt they would have been far better off going for a concise ending shortly after Suwama’s come back. The overwrought finishing stretch was poor on its own, but stood out even more because it was tacked on after they naturally hit a high point just moments earlier. A good example of a match that would have been better off wrestled as a mid-profile Korakuen Hall main event in a struggling promotion rather than vainly attempting to masquerade the match as a monumental and epic title switch.

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